• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.

Title

A National Army of Career Counselors

Chewing on an idea.

December 2, 2021
 
 

This is the second of two parts on Anthony Carnevale’s talk earlier this week.

In his talk to community college folks this week, Anthony Carnevale suggested that a national army of career counselors would do a world of good both for colleges and for the country as a whole.

I had to stop and think about that one.

Career counseling can mean different things to different people. And I’ll admit to some bias here on two counts. First, my mom worked in that field for years. Second, I’ve worked with some outstanding career services folks over the course of my career. So I come to the question favorably predisposed to career counseling as a service.

While there’s obvious value in the traditional functions of résumé preparation and interview practice, they’re not the major contribution that good career counseling makes. The real value is in goal identification. Students who know what they want are much likelier to persist when the going gets tough.

I’m not sure how that would work on a national scale, though.

High schools already have guidance counselors, so there’s something like a baseline. But guidance counselors necessarily deal with many other issues beyond career interest identification. They also frequently have such overwhelming numbers of students to work with that many students receive cursory attention at most. If guidance counselors as they currently exist were the entire answer, we wouldn’t need to ask the question.

Thinking back to 17, and reflecting on things my kids have told me, I suspect that there’s a much larger issue of just not knowing what the options are. It’s hard to aspire to something you don’t know exists. That’s especially true, I suspect, for kids who grow up in areas with limited economies. If your family isn’t in professional roles, and most of the jobs around you don’t require a college education, how do you know which doors you want college to open?

The “meta-major” component of guided pathways reforms offers one answer. If a student shows up with a general sense of wanting to be in health care, for instance, we offer an Intro to Health Careers class that exposes them to occupations beyond doctor and nurse. Many students discover that some of those alternatives are more appealing for them. But even that level of class presupposes both enrollment and a general sense of what they want.

We’ve incorporated career interest identification into our college success course, into which we steer students who declare as undecided. It helps, but again, it presupposes enrollment.

Meta-majors might be especially good choices for dual enrollment, if they help students get the lay of the land sooner. Of course, the most effective courses aren’t just courses. They also involve field trips, guest speakers and all sorts of other forays into the world that require administrative support. For many high schools, that can be a reach, at least at scale.

Still, I can’t quite shake the sense that if we could get the details right, there’s a terrific idea just waiting to be realized.

Wise and worldly readers, is there a reasonably elegant way to accomplish something like this at scale?

Read more by

We have retired comments and introduced Letters to the Editor. Letters may be sent to [email protected].

Read the Letters to the Editor  »

 
Back to Top